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Top 10 Pioneering Women of Aviation

After reading the autobiography of Chuck Yeager, I was impressed not only by his exploits, but by those of a lifelong friend and female pilot. Appearing on the list, she was a true pioneer and adventurer in a time when women were not welcome in a male-dominated field. Spanning almost a century, these women should be remembered for their determination, as well as their skill as aviators.


Svetlana Savitskaya

Savitskaya Svetlana 3

The first woman to walk in space, Svetlana Savitskaya was born August 8, 1948 in Moscow. She began parachuting at an early age, having made 450 jumps and setting a record for a 14km free fall before her 18th birthday. She attended the Moscow Aviation Institute, and went on to be licensed to fly 20 different aircraft. She set a woman’s speed record of 2,683 km/hr in a MiG-21. She joined the Soviet space program, becoming a cosmonaut in 1980. She became the second women in space, aboard Soyuz T-7, and then was twice stationed on the Salyut 7 space station. On the Salyut 7, she participated in the first spacewalk by a woman, lasting just over 3 and a half hours. She retired in 1993 from the Russian space program, having twice been awarded the title Hero of the Soviet Union.




The United States Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) and the British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force (WAAFs) were created to employ women pilots in roles that were traditionally occupied by men. The WASPs trained a total of 1074 pilots to fly planes between factories and air bases, freeing male pilots for combat and other military roles. They also flew cargo planes and towed target planes for target practice. Although civilian, they were trained to fly most of the military planes flown in WWII. Tragically, 38 WASP pilots were killed in training or active duty accidents, but did not receive military funerals. WAAFs, the British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force was composed of over 180,000 women at its peak. Women of the WAAF assumed flying roles in the Air Transport Auxiliary, as well as many non flying roles, including packing parachutes, radar and communications duties, as well as plotting and directing planes in the defensive Battle of Britain.


Amy Johnson

Amy Johnson

A British pilot, Amy Johnson earned her pilot license and ground engineer’s license in 1929. She began flying long-distance record-breaking flights shortly after. She was the first woman to fly from London, England to Australia solo, the first (along with Jack Humphries as co-pilot) to fly from London to Moscow, and set speed records for flying to Japan, and Cape Town, South Africa. During WWII, she joined the Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA), flying military planes to and from air bases, factories, and Maintenance Units. On January 5th, 1941, she was flying from RAF Prestwick in Ayrshire to RAF Kidlington in Oxfordshire when she was forced to ditch her plane in the Thames Estuary. She was off course, and out of fuel when she bailed out. There has been some controversy surrounding her death, including a claim that she was the victim of a friendly fire incident, and the theory that she was on a top secret mission when she crashed. The first ATA fatality in the war, her body was never recovered.


Sabiha Gokcen


Sabiha Gokcen was the first Turkish woman to earn a pilot license and the first woman in the world to fly a plane in a combat role. She learned to fly at Turk Kusu, a Turkish Civilian Aviation School, and then received advanced training in Russia. She flew bombers for the Eskisehir First Aircraft Regiment, flying combat missions in the Dersim Rebellion in 1937. In 1938, she was appointed Senior Instructor of the Turk Kusu School of Aviation, a position she held until 1955. The Sabiha Gokcen International Airport in Istanbul is dedicated to her.


Harriet Quimby

Harriet Quimby

Harriet Quimby was the first woman to earn a pilot license in the United States, in August 1911. A journalist and screenwriter, she became a minor celebrity and was extremely influential to other women in the early days of aviation. Her flying career, although brief, was highlighted by a crossing of the English Chanel, the first woman to do so. On April 16, 1912, she flew a 50 HP monoplane from Dover, England to Hardelot-Plage, Pas-de-Calais. Her achievement was overshadowed by news of the sinking of the HMS Titanic the previous day. On July 1st, 1912, she was killed while flying in an airshow in Massachusetts. Quimby and her passenger fell to their deaths after the plane went into a steep dive, throwing both of them from the plane.


Raymonde de Laroche


Raymonde de Laroche was the first woman in the world to earn a pilot license. She was awarded license number 36 by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale, on March 8th, 1910. Competing in the Coupe Femina, she won the 1913 award with a flight of over 4 hours. She set two world records in 1919 for longest flight by a woman, with a distance of 201 miles, and for reaching an altitude of 15,700 feet. On July 18th, 1919, she was killed while flying in an experimental airplane when it crashed while trying to land.


Helene Dutrieu

Helene Dutrieu

Helene Dutrieu was a daredevil from an early age. She began racing and performing stunts in bicycles, motorcycles, and cars. Her first attempt at flying was less than successful, as she crashed her plane on take off. She was able to fly solo some time later, and earned her pilot license from the Aero Club of Belgium on November 25, 1910. Only the fourth woman in the world, and first Belgian women to earn her license, she quickly began setting records for altitude and distance. She was the first woman to fly more than an hour, and the first women to fly with a passenger. In 1910, with a flight time of 2 hours 35 minutes, she won the Coupe Femina, a competition that awarded 2000 francs to the woman with the longest flight-time by the end of the year. For her aviation achievements, she was awarded the Légoon d’Honneur (the French Legion of Honor).


Bessie Coleman

200Px-Bessie Coleman, First African American Pilot - Gpn-2004-00027

Elizabeth “Bessie” Coleman, an African American, overcame many challenges on her way to becoming the first African American woman to earn a pilot license. The first African American female pilot, she was unable to gain admission to flight schools in the US, so she learned French, and then traveled to Paris to learn to fly. She earned her license on June 15, 1921, and then returned to the United States where she earned a living performing stunts and demonstrations at air shows. A champion of equality, she fought to break down racial barriers in the segregated south, requiring equal facilities for her air shows. Although she died in a plane crash in 1926, her life was seen as an important first step in breaking the racial and gender barriers in the early days of aviation.


Amelia Earhart

1D Earhart-02

No list of women pioneers of aviation would be complete without Amelia Earhart, one of the the most famous pilots of all time. She was only the 16th woman to earn her pilot license, receiving it on May 15th, 1923. She became the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean as a passenger, becoming a minor celebrity in the process. She then set a record as the first woman to fly across North America and the first woman to fly solo non-stop across the Atlantic. As her fame grew, she began setting other records for aviation, setting her ultimate goal of circumnavigating the globe. Although she wouldn’t be the first, her plan was to fly the longest route around the world. Her first attempt ended when she crashed on take-off, with some claiming pilot error. Her second attempt ended with one of the greatest mysteries of the 20th century. Flying west to east, she began her trip with a flight from Oakland, CA to Miami, FL. On one of the last, and most difficult legs of the trip, the plane disappeared on the approach to Howland Island in the central Pacific. Many theories and controversies surround her disappearance.


Jacqueline Cochran

Jacqueline Cochran In P-40

Jacqueline Cochran, the inspiration for this list, earned her pilot license in 1932. A natural pilot, she first used her love of flying to promote “Wings,” her own line of cosmetics. In 1934, she began racing and was the first woman to fly in the Bendix Race, which she won in 1937. A point to point race from Los Angeles, CA to Cleveland, OH, she received $9000 in prize money. Before the US involvement in WWII, she proposed a program to allow women pilots to staff non-combat duties, similar to the British Air Transport Auxiliary (ATA). This proposal lead to her becoming the director of the WASPs. She was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal and the Distinguished Flying Cross. A lifelong friend of Chuck Yeager, she was the first woman to break the sound barrier, with Yeager flying in the chase plane. She went on to set more speed, altitude, and distance records than any other pilot, male or female, holding them until her death in 1980. No other woman, and very few men were as influential to the era of modern aviation.

  • j


    • PLEASE TELL EVERYONE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      ASIANS CAN ACTUALLY READ MINDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      Please go to this link! The results on Google results go past page 30!!!!!! They really read minds!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


  • F Bomb

    Those bitches should have been in the kitchen…

    • Missy

      Watch your ****ing language.

      You go girls!!!!

  • Australian Nancy Bird-Walton should have been on this list. In 1935 at the age of 20, she was operating (piloting) an Air Ambulance Service in outback Australia, landing in paddocks (fields) and founded the Australian Women’s Pilot Association in 1950. A true hero and pioneer!

    • Vincent

      Agreed, and Nancy made it to a ripe old age without ever an accident. There were a number of other pioneering Aussie aviatrixes as well.

    • WilfredfromAus

      Yes, and also Maud Bonney. She was the first woman to fly solo to Africa and England and the first woman to circumnavigate Australia by air.

  • funnyavi

    Does anyone else feel like Amelia Earhart is a lot more famous than the rest of these women but personally did not accomplish quite as much. I am sure she was a great pilot but she was mostly famous for doing things that others have done before her, but being a woman, got a lot more credit for it. I dont want to put her down but I feel like thats a big contribution to her fame.

    • fred

      Aren’t all the entries in the same category? It all seems to be first woman, rather than first overall?

  • Steven Douglas

    Wow. I now know love at first sight.

    My goal now is to construct a time machine, go back to 1912, and save Harriet Quimby’s life (yeah, yeah, and avert the Titanic disaster too, and kill someone named Adolph in Austria, and also stop the Federal Reserve from existing). Once I have done all that, I will return to my true love, Harriet Quimby, whom I shall stalk for the rest of her gorgeous and hopefully long life.

    • dude what ? She looks higher than a f.ucking stingray .

    • swapie

      Agree. She was lovely.

    • SilverFox316

      Steven Douglas, as you are a new member, please read IATT Bulletin 1147 regarding the killing of Hitler before your excursion. Failure to do so may result in your expulsion per Bylaw 223.

    • N/A

      Why kill a certain Adolph in Austria? Back then you would be a murderer. Instead, you could help him get into art school. Actually, that would have prevented the Second World War.

  • Look At Me Mom I’m President Kennedy

    Very inspirational stuff. Good list.

  • Missy

    Just because you haven’t made it yet in the Mile High Club, Ni99a, no need to take it out on these ladies.

  • ww

    I knew it would have to happen at some point, but couldn’t you people have given us one more interesting list before giving us this? Maybe one on medical myths that are wrong (have you done that before?), or something like that.

  • WhoAmI?

    The sky is one hell of a kitchen, And you know what.. your mama is so dumb, she got stuck in a escalator for 2 hours.

  • Cynic

    I dont mean disrespect to the WASP, WAAF but i thought this was an individual list…..

  • bigd1ckman

    Lol women. Pointless list, these people are all dead and have no interest to me.

  • Norman the Mormon

    Hello friends. Its me Norman the loveable rascal. With another poem for you LV readers

    All around the world in every single nation
    Funky sassy chicks are studying aviation
    Amelia Earhart flying in her little plane
    I use to have a girlfriend her name was Jane
    She dumped me for a man called jerimiah
    Now the only man for me is my messiah
    Oh jesus thank you for your life
    Please let me marry more than one wife.
    Thats my poem its super cool
    If you dont like my rhyme dont be cruel

    • Idiot

      I have to disagree with with your rhyme. Whilst well constructed, it appears to be factually inaccurate. A quick Google search shows that there are indeed nations who have little to no air force (instead relying on neighbours for air protection and transport) and no education system. This challenges the claim that there are women in every nation studying aviation.

      Personally I would look in to the reason I believed such claims and try to take action to rectify such irregularities. For example your source might be untrust worthy or you may have a history of blindly committing yourself to claims that are quite obviously false.

      Still, it was a nice rhyme.

      • Peter Griffen

        Oh my god. Who the hell cares how correct it is?

        • Idiot

          Are you asking for numbers or names? I can provide neither, doing so would be a huge task. We could just agree that no one cares, or you could change your previous question to a statement. Could I recommend ‘I don’t care’? I believe this would be much more effective at getting your point across and it would answer your previous question.

          Your call, although I’m glad I could help.

    • Will Trame

      I noted you quoted Bacharach/David’s “I Say A Little Prayer” yesterday. In honor of today’s list topic, how about your rendering of one of these two Doors songs?

      “Build Me A Woman” or (She’s A) Twentieth Century Fox”.

      • Chunibrow

        What the hell album is build me a woman on? I have never heard of that one. But if I built a woman she’d never make a scene, she’d never break a date.

        But she’s no drag just watch the way she walks!
        She’s a… 20th century fox!
        She’s a… 20th century fox!
        Got the world locked up inside a plastic box!
        She’s a 20th century fooooooox!

    • Freddie B. Takinglegaladvice

      For the record, I replied to your rhyme with one of my own which has been duly moderated and unceremoniously censored, even though it had no discernible content that could be deemed offensive or non-compliant with the rules of posting on this site.

      My lawyer said so.

  • Peter Griffen

    Too ‘Murican

    • david

      Yeah, where’s all those Congolese women who contributed to aviation?


  • MissMeggle

    Anyone else have a picture of Bush instead of Amelia Earheart?

    • No, because he didn’t crash his airplane.

      • ..,,l,,..

        Good point, say what you will, but he flew difficult plains and unlike John McCain or Emelie Earhard didn’t crash. If only he was that good at running country……

        • The Annoyed Elephant

          He certainly could’ve done a better job in his 2nd term.

  • Serge

    Honestly, the women belong in the kitchen joke should’ve been ditched maybe a year after it was first introduced to mainstream media. Who knows why all these men are too lazy to make their own food. Apparently they need a perpetual mum figure in their life more than a wife.

  • So, half these chicks crashed? Hmm… women drivers.

  • Steve-O

    Harriet Quimby was a hottie! Not to mention that she wore a purple aviatrix outfit.

  • me

    Note how many of them died in plane crashes

    Pioneering, but not actually very good at flying planes

  • STFUDaddy

    Where’s Valentina?! She was the first woman to ever gone into space and a communist woman too…

  • major harris

    where is lydia litvyak? the first female fighter ace? 12 solo kills against the luftwaffe in world war two. shot down august 1st, 1943.

  • Matthewzd

    No Eileen Collins? First woman to pilot a space shuttle and first woman to command a shuttle mission.

  • Cynic

    “Anybody else left out??? Please, be free to mention…..” if the author should have said this…..

  • Kerry M

    No Pancho Barnes????? The list is incomplete

    • Nick

      I was thinking the exact same thing! I’m sure there’s more than just 10 names but I would have included Pancho in the top 3 of any list of female aviators. Her years as a racer, test pilot, and the ownership of the Happy Bottom Riders Club was enough to warrant a mention.

  • Boone

    Well Wonder Woman flew an invisible jet. These ladies had to actually see the controls to fly. Whatever, I guess they belong on the list and Wonder Woman doesn’t, whatever.

  • lawn

    Hey, that was pretty interesting, despite the high body count. I’d like to nominate Senorita Lenore Rivero for Part 2:

  • Dan

    Great list. I had never heard of 8 of these women and now I have a bit of hostory on them. I’m sure others have their opinions on who should have or not have been on this list. But bottom line it was informative and taught me something. Thanks!!!

  • Shadowdancer

    You left out Hanna Reitsch.

  • Cynic

    @norman the moron aka norman the loveable rascal….. You again??? Dude why dont post at websites or blogs for poems and poets??? Where your childish poems might be appreciated Or else face the wrath of criticism….. Uuuaaaahhhhahaha…. and listverse has lots of critics…..dont forget my username is… CYNIC…cynic the evil.., uuuaaaahhhaa…

  • trying this now

    What happened to Valantina Tereshkova? First woman in space!

  • SJR

    there’s also all these flying ladies… just sayin. a friend mine wrote this book, about a real group of women pilots who at one time were literally meant to be the first humans to fly into space.

  • Mrs Marvel

    Pancho Barnes?

  • Zippydog

    She may have been a nazi but how can you miss off Hanna Reitsch. Didn’t she test fly a V1 bomb?

  • zippy

    She might be a Nazi but what about Hanna Reitsch. She test-piloted a V1 flying bomb! What where is Tereskova, first women astronaut??

  • Miss Nimbus

    Wow!!! you sound like a real winner.

  • george

    How about Jean batten?

  • Mws

    I hate to be this guy… But who gives a fvck?